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The Florida House approves monthly fees in lieu of a security deposit for renters

Supporters of the bill say avoiding a security deposit can help families get into a home that better suits their needs.
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Supporters of the bill say avoiding a security deposit can help families get into a home that better suits their needs.

Landlords in Florida may soon be allowed to charge monthly, nonrefundable fees to tenants instead of a security deposit. The House has approved a bill that would give renters the option of avoiding a down payment they may not be able to afford.

Not everyone is on board.

“It allows landlords to charge their own fee and pocket it while still pursuing damages. It provides no consumer guardrails, no caps on fees, no regulations for these perpetual fees,” said Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, calling the bill (HB 537) a tax on poor tenants that doesn’t address the state’s affordable housing crisis.

“It was filed at the request of out-of-state companies who offer a phony insurance product of surety bond that are predatory,” Nixon said. The bill is being pushed by two companies, LeaseLock and Rhino, which offer security deposit insurance.

“When I was a private in the Army, I had to get my own place,” said Rep. Michelle Salzman, R-Pensacola. She said this kind of program would have been beneficial when she and her husband were stationed in separate locations, and she was caring for their baby. “I had to get an apartment 20 minutes from base because I didn't have the deposit, the down payment, in my bank account to cover where everybody else was living. I had to move further out.”

“We're here because of our personal stories, and this is mine.” Rep. Kevin Chambliss, D-Miami, said a private landlord created such a plan for him that saved his family from being homeless.

I know that this is about fees, not a security deposit, and I know that there aren't the safety nets that we want in this bill,” Chambliss said. “But I have to be honest when we're talking about a scenario that I lived in because at the time, when I'm looking at the landlord and I’ve got my wife and kids in the car, everything else doesn't really matter at that time. I just needed to get them housed.”

The monthly fee could end up costing the renter much more than the security deposit. So, the bill says anyone who chooses to pay the fee at any point can change their mind and pay the deposit instead. But they won't likely get back the money that was already paid in fees.

“There are no mandates to this bill. This is 100% opt in, 100% opt out. It's that simple,” said Rep. Jim Mooney, R-Key Large, in closing the debate on his bill. He acknowledged the bill doesn’t fix the affordable housing shortage, but he said it offers an option that has been helping people around the country for over two decades get better housing for their family or get closer to work.

“I did it when I was a school teacher,” Mooney said. “I begged, can you please take an extra $50 a month out of my pocket because I don't have the deposit, just like Rep. Chambliss said, to get in. But I wanted to live close to the school that I taught at, otherwise it was a 25-mile ride one way.”

Mooney says his bill was amended to add consumer protections after discussions with constituents and lawmakers. “But remember, just because it's a fee in lieu of security deposit, if I give somebody my $1,500 deposit, it doesn't mean I get it back either,” Mooney said. “It doesn't mean they don't come after me.”

The bill passed the House 88 to 27. The Senate version (SB 884) is ready to be considered by the full chamber.

Gina Jordan is the host of Morning Edition for WFSU News. Gina is a Tallahassee native and graduate of Florida State University. She spent 15 years working in news/talk and country radio in Orlando before becoming a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU in 2008. Follow Gina: @hearyourthought on Twitter. Click below for Gina's full bio.